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Croatian Rhapsody

Chapter Text

The Sun smiled in the bright blue sky, peeking in through the window of Touko’s bedroom. Her eyes crept open and she forced herself to sit up. A small tear formed in her eye as she stretched out her arms. She yawned cutely. Today marked the start of another regular week, a typical Monday at Hope’s Peak Academy.

When she finished yawning, she grabbed her glasses from her bedside table and put them on. Still half-asleep, she picked up her phone, which had been beside her glasses, and checked the time.

Touko blinked.

“Eh?” she went.

Then she screeched.

She was late for class!

Leaping out of bed, she rushed over to her wardrobe and flung it open. Touko threw off her night dress, put on the first plain set of undergarments that she saw and hurriedly finished dressing herself, buttoning her shirt through the wrong holes and shoving her feet into the wrong shoe. With no time to spare, she picked up a slice of bread on the way out, not even slotting it into the toaster for a minute. She held her breakfast between her teeth and sprinted out of her dorm. Out of the building.

To sleep through her alarm... what a ditzy, scatterbrained thing to do!

Her shoes slapped loudly against the pavement. Not even thirty seconds could have passed, and she was already huffing and puffing and sweating.

Keeping this pace required so much effort that she started to develop tunnel vision. By now, everyone had already arrived in class, so one would assume that the chances of her crashing into anyone were almost nil.

One would assume.

But alas! Touko crashed into someone.

She shrieked and tumbled back, flailing her legs, and when she came to a stop in a sitting position, she could only see stars for a few seconds. The back of her head throbbed where it had hit the pavement, and the slice of bread that she had brought with her had been released into the abyss somewhere.

“W-Watch where you’re-!” she started with a snarl, only to trail off. Sat opposite her was a tall, lean, blond guy with long eyelashes and ocean blue eyes.

Though her lips continued moving, no sound came out. As she stared at him, pink bubbles floated behind him.

He rubbed his head and stood up. With a scowl, he pushed up his glasses and glared down at her.

“You’re the one who should watch where you’re going,” he said as he dusted himself off. “You ran straight into me.”

The bubbles behind him popped.

Touko scrunched her face, jumped up and waved her fists indignantly.

“I was going to class!” she spat. “What are you doing here, huh? Apart from knocking girls over and trying to get a flash of their panties?”

He fixed his glasses again.

“I’m on my way to class, actually,” he said coldly.

She curled her lips.

“Then you’re late,” she said.

“So are you.”

She howled at the sky.

“My brain cells are dying because of the frequency of your voice!” she announced, pulling on her hair, and she left the guy to his own devices.

After all, she had class to attend, and it wasn’t like she would see him again.

Touko entered the main school building through the front entrance and climbed all the necessary stairs until she arrived at the corridor containing her homeroom. Her shoes squeaked all the way to the door, which she pried open and peeked around.

At the front of the homeroom, her teacher, Chisa Yukizome, was writing equations on the interactive whiteboard. Upon hearing the door open, Chisa turned to it, and seeing who was there, she faced Touko completely, stuck out her chest and placed her hands onto her hips. The rest of the class followed her gaze.

“You are late, Fukawa-kun,” scolded Chisa.

Nearby, Kiyotaka slammed his hands against his desk, already crying.

“Fukawa-kun! You broke... the school rules! And... judging by how you’re breathing... you ran... in the school halls!” he said, tears and snot running down his face.

Lightning could have struck outside.

He cried louder. Next to him, Mondo threw his desk at the wall in rage, then he leaned over and squeezed Kiyotaka’s shoulder.

“Kyoudai, you’ve gotta fucking relax,” said Mondo, his pompadour like, ridiculously large. Kiyotaka turned to him.

“Kyoudai...” Kiyotaka said in a hushed tone back, and they continued gazing into each other’s eyes.

Pink bubbles surrounded them. Mondo tenderly wiped away Kiyotaka’s eyes, cradling Kiyotaka’s cheek in his oversized hand.

Chisa set her eyes on Touko.

“Don’t let this become a habit,” she said, wagging her finger at her.

Touko gave a noncommittal grunt and shuffled over to her desk at the back of the classroom by the window, feeling everyone’s eyes on her. If only the gloomy cloud following Touko could have been thicker. Then they wouldn’t have been able to see her through it. Chisa waited for her to sit down, then turned back to the whiteboard to teach.

The lesson resumed, and from the get-go, dragged on. While Chisa rambled on, Touko stared out at the sky. It was a brilliant, endless blue. A sporty person would have liked to be outside in it, where rays from the Sun would warm their skin and they wouldn’t have to worry about how it might rain. Touko, however, imagined her blouse clinging to her damp skin and her legs melting beneath her until she formed into a puddle on the ground.

On a day like this, she would have preferred to be in her dorm or the library, writing.

As Touko trained her eyes on the sky, she felt as if something was pressing against her lips from inside her mouth, like her tongue, only not her tongue. Like.. Like her soul. She felt like the sky was trying to suck her essence out of her. Something about the blue sky... felt so inviting...

Chisa scrawled arrows onto the whiteboard so various numbers pointed to others. Even though Touko specialised in writing - particularly fiction writing, she was also a genius girl, so she understood what Chisa was saying. Well, Touko would have if she had been paying attention. She didn’t even respond to the classroom door opening.

“Ah, you must be the new student,” said Chisa, turning to the door.

Touko was pulled out of her daydream and looked over to the doorway. She froze when she saw who it was. Of all the people that existed in this world, the new student was none other than the blond guy that she nearly flattened on the way here.

What a twist!

He walked into the room, passing Chisa, and sat at the only available desk. Which, believe it or not, was the desk in front of Touko and also the desk where the protagonist in an anime would often sit. Being by the window, near the back, the animators wouldn’t have to draw everyone behind him, but by having a row of desks behind him, it gave the viewer the impression that this was a full class.

Chisa frowned and tilted her head to one side.

“Are you going to introduce yourself?” she asked, staring over at him.

The guy pushed up his glasses, even though they weren’t out of place.

“I’m Byakuya Togami,” he said.

Silence.

“My self introduction is over,” he told them.

Chisa blinked and rubbed the back of her neck. “Um... okay.”

She returned to the interactive whiteboard, and Touko squinted at the back of his head. What sort of impression did he intend to set by turning up late to his first day at a new school? Also, what sort of name was Byakuya Togami? The nerve of this transfer student... and he acknowledged the class so coldly!

He bent down to reach into his satchel. Touko assumed that he was getting out a notebook and pen so he could take notes, but instead he extracted a laptop. Okay, so he could have wanted to type his notes instead. Fair enough. But then he booted up his laptop, and he opened up a webpage for the stock exchange market! So while Chisa explained differentiating the equation of a curve, he was making money!

Touko’s teeth ground together.

“Fukawa-kun!” said Chisa, and Touko snapped her head up.

Chisa frowned at Touko from the front of the classroom.

“Huh?” went Touko, and Chisa folded her arms over her chest.

“Can you answer my question?” she asked Touko, pursing her lips.

Touko fidgeted. Her skin prickled under her collar.

“Which is...?” mumbled Touko. Chisa lifted her chin.

“Do you make your personality dark and push people away just to keep them safe, or because you fear them rejecting the real you?” asked Chisa.

“W-What?”

“I said,” said Chisa in the same tone of voice as before, “by differentiating the equation of the curve, what are we left with?”

“The...” Touko swallowed. Fumbled. Her heart was still beating rapidly. “The gradient of the curve. You’re left with the gradient of the curve.”

Chisa narrowed her eyes, and after a beat of tense silence, broke into a grin.

“Yes, that’s right, Fukawa-kun!” Chisa said brightly, and she carried on with the lesson.

Touko barely paid attention before, but now all Touko heard when Chisa spoke was the hum of a fly, or the hum of an old computer’s fan whirling. For the rest of the lesson, she stared at the back of Byakuya’s head, and by the time lunch finally rolled around, she still didn’t feel quite with it. A knot formed in her gut, and all the way to the cafeteria, it bounced, tugging uncomfortably on her insides, and it festered as she waited in line to get her food.

In a lot of schools, a few students were assigned lunch duty and brought lunch to their classroom, but this school had a cafeteria. Just to throw it out there.

“Ah, Fukawa-san!” greeted a stout student on the other side of the counter. He was in another class and was called Teruteru. His special talent was being a chef or something.

Oh, right, everyone enrolled at this school had a super duper talent.

Teruteru stroked his chin. “What are you in the mood for? A sausage?”

He smirked. Touko didn’t respond, and the ends of his lips wilted at the lack of reaction.

“Are you in the mood for my sausage, Fukawa-san?” he asked, putting on more bravado.

She lifted her gaze. The anxiety manifesting in her started to become drowned out with anger, but before she could respond, a blur swooped out from above and sent Teruteru careening away with an almighty kick to the face.

When the blur stopped moving, which was right after, Touko discovered it to have been a student with wide shoulders and hair almost as pale as his pale skin. Under his jacket but over his shirt, he wore a green waistcoat with a red trim. He gave a wheezy laugh.

“Ah, sorry. I, Nagito Komaeda, must have slipped,” he said, but firstly, he didn’t sound sorry, and two, what sort of person slipped like that?

While he offered Teruteru his hand and helped him up to his feet, Touko served herself and brought her tray over to a small table with no one else on it. Today’s lunch consisted of a bowl of rice, a bowl of egg drop soup and a dish with two sections - one containing pickled vegetables, and the other a block of deep-fried tofu with oyster sauce.

Touko scooped up some of the soup and sipped it. The ginger, salt and pepper helped bring out the sweet eggy taste without overpowering it with a spicy flavour. She helped herself to some more. As she ate, people passed her table, some to get food, some to leave the cafeteria, and then a shadow fell upon her table.

“Hi, Fukawa-chan!” said someone. Touko looked up. It was Aoi Asahina, accompanied by Sakura Oogami.

According to the floating text annotating the arrow pointing to Aoi’s head, Aoi was Touko’s best friend in this, and the arrow pointing to Sakura indicated that Sakura was her other best friend in this. Presumably because it wouldn’t make sense to have Komaru Naegi be here.

Wait. This? In ‘this’? Why did Touko think to use that word? And who was Komaru Naegi? Anyway, ‘this’ was life. Without waiting to be asked to join, Aoi placed down her tray and took a seat. Sakura followed suit. Touko’s lips pinched.

“What do you want?” asked Touko, narrowing her eyes at them with suspicion, suspiciously.

“Isn’t this what best friends do?” said Aoi, tapping herself on the chin and answering with a question.

Touko hesitated. “I... suppose?”

Aoi beamed, and she and Sakura began their lunches. Theirs weren’t the same as Touko’s. For some reason, Aoi had a plate stacked with donuts, and Sakura had cans of protein drink and precisely one cup of tea on a saucer.

Initially, Aoi wolfed down the donuts, and Touko watched in disbelief, even if the sound of chomping wracked her eardrums. After a while, Aoi slowed down a bit and began to talk as she ate.

“So anyway, Kuwata asked Maizono-chan to the dance, right? But Maizono-chan skirted around it.” Eating. “You know? She said she was undecided on going, but I think she wants to see if a certain someone asks her out. Now, we think it’s Naegi, but Kirigiri-chan is also an option, or even Ikusaba-chan.”

More eating.

A lot more eating.

The donuts didn’t seem to ever end.

“But, like, Naegi could go with almost anyone!” Aoi gulped. “Kirigiri-chan’s the popular choice, but then there’s also Togami.”

Touko sucked in her cheeks like she just inhaled from a lemon. Speaking of Kyouko, she was standing in a shadowy corner, sneering at everyone. She lit a cigarette, took one puff, dropped it, snuffed it out with the heel of her boot and then resumed looking cool again.

Kyouko was very mysterious indeed. Also probably a tsundere, or maybe a yandere. It could go either way.

“But you know, Naegi’s very popular with the girls and most of the boys, so it’s too early to say,” said Aoi, shaking a finger at Touko.

Sakura nodded and folded her arms over her chest. She gave a grunt, smirked, and then said, “Indeed... heh.”

There was a round of applause.

Touko fed herself some rice. To think, of all the things that could have been happening to them in the world, she was listening to Aoi talk about an upcoming dance which Touko currently had no date for.

“I’m going with Sakura-chan,” piped up Aoi. “But we have a pact that if Naegi asks either of us out, we’ll either split or go as part of a harem.”

Aoi clapped her hands together and pointed her finger tips toward Touko, looking stern.

“Now, Fukawa-chan, your choices are rather limited,” said Aoi gravely.

A pause. Then Aoi grinned and splayed out her hands either side of her head.

“Actually, they’re not. Because I know you have a crush on Togami!” announced Aoi, and Touko choked on her milk. Some spurted out of her nose.

Sakura reached over and gave Touko a pat on the back. The force of impact sent Touko flying across the room, where she slammed into a wall on the other side of the cafeteria. As this was just a gag, though, only a few people looked at Touko for a little bit, and Touko returned to their table unharmed.

“I don’t!” Touko hissed through her teeth, picking up the conversation like nothing happened.

“I mean, for a nerdy white guy, you could do worse than Byakuya Togami (十神 白夜),” remarked Aoi, but Touko continued fuming and didn’t even notice that Aoi said his name twice for some reason.

“Do not be afraid of your love,” said Sakura, and the angle made it look like the ceiling light above her head was a halo. “As Ji Cun Xi once said, ‘I Only Know That The First Time Is Accidental, The Second Time Is Inevitable, And The Third Time Is By Fate’... heh.”

There was a round of applause.

Touko didn’t know what that had to do with her and Byakuya. This was his first day at the school and Touko had never met him before. He had also been obnoxious on their first meeting which therefore meant he was a piece of garbage forever. FOREVER.

“Oh, I just remembered something,” said Aoi. She scratched her chin. “Celes-chan planned on asking Togami to the dance, so you better be careful.”

Aoi and Sakura turned their heads at the same time, and Touko followed their gaze. Celes was seated with Byakuya at another table, and she was talking animatedly and giggling about something while Byakuya stared broodingly into space.

Even though Touko totally didn’t like Byakuya, seeing Celes trying to get close to him made her blood boil. For some unknown, mysterious reason.

“Fukawa-chan,” said Aoi suddenly, and Touko turned to her. Aoi’s face was serious. “Does your masochism stem from how you’ve tried to cope with the sexual abuse from your father?”

Touko’s stomach lurched. “What?”

“I said, what are you going to wear to the dance tonight?” asked Aoi, with the same, serious expression.

It hadn’t sounded like that. As Touko stared down at her lunch, she didn’t feel hungry anymore.

“Oh... I don’t know?” mumbled Touko.

“Then we’ll all just have to give you a makeover!” Aoi said, and she scoffed the rest of her donuts down. With her mouth full, she added, “Straight after classes, okay? We’ll go to Enoshima-chan’s room.”

That name sent a chill through Touko, but Touko couldn’t pinpoint why. Junko was one of their classmates, a blond girl who specialised in modelling with a valley girl accent despite being Japanese. Her existence and what she stood for went against the lifestyle of a bookish nerd author like Touko, so that could have been why Touko felt such revulsion at the sound of her name. Always accompanying Junko was Mukuro, who just stood in the background and blowed bubblegum.

After thinking all that, she almost forgot about the whole makeup thing, but she hadn’t forgotten and shuddered. Hopefully, they would forget and she could escape to her room as soon as class ended.

They returned to class and Touko settled back at her desk. The next lesson started, but unable to focus, Touko doodled in her notebook while teachers came and went for every lesson. She couldn’t concentrate, not really because her mind’s focus lay elsewhere, but because her head seemed to be filled with fluff that made it hard to fit a thought in there, and she didn’t put much stock in this, but she spent most of the next couple of hours boring her eyes into the back of Byakuya’s head.

For some unknown, mysterious reason.

“And that’s why you should always make suwe you have a fiwewall wunning,” concluded Usami, a large white rabbit with feathery wings and a pink bow by her right ear. She wore a pink bib and a pink and white layered, ruffled dress. “Now... hey!”

Touko jerked her head up at the sharpness of Usami’s tone. Usami marched over to Chihiro and snatched a note of paper from Chihiro, who jumped when it left Chihiro’s grip.

“Awe you passing notes while I’m teaching?” she groused, blowing out her cheeks.

“I-It’s n-not f-from m-me,” said Chihiro with large, doleful eyes.

Ignoring Chihiro, Usami unfolded the piece of paper, cleared her throat and read aloud from it.

“Touko Fukawa
Only you light up my world
Get me feeling light-hearted
All I want is you, who makes my toes curled
Me and You
I am too shy to share my true feelings
So I pretend to hate you
Do you feel the same way about me, whose love reaches past ceilings?
I wish I could tell you how much you mean to me
Castle walls border my heart
Killing me by starving me, by the way the castle walls are really a metaphor
Parkour.”

Usami waved the love letter and stomped her feet. Steam blew out of her ears. “Alwight, who wwote this?”

No one said anything. They just stared at Touko, who melted into her seat.

“Well, whoevew wwote this poem is cleawly vewy talented, but we have to get back to ouw lesson,” said Usami. She put the love letter away in a desk drawer. “Computew secuwity is vewy impowtant! You don’t know when someone will bwing a viwus into a simulation and make you kill each othew.”

For the rest of the lesson, Touko wondered who had written that incredibly heartfelt love letter to her. All her life, she thought herself ugly, stupid and other things that a woman’s worth was measured with. However, try as she might, she drew a blank. The writer would most likely remain a mystery for the rest of her life. Or until like... the last chapter or something.

By the time the last lesson concluded, Touko had actually forgotten about Aoi’s plans for her, and outside of the classroom, Touko started for the library.

“Hey!” Aoi caught up and grabbed her by the arm. “Wrong way! We’ve got to like, get ready for the school dance tonight!”

Touko struggled but Aoi could crush a watermelon between her thighs, so Touko had no chance of breaking free.

“But I don’t have a date,” said Touko, whining as Aoi dragged her away.

Aoi kept a firm hold of Touko all the way to the dorms. Several people stared at them as the pair passed by, but none of them thought to rescue Touko.

They arrived outside of Junko’s dorm, and Aoi rung the bell. Ten or so seconds later, Junko opened it.

“Hi!” Junko greeted with no evil undertones. She stepped aside, letting them in.

Walls painted white enclosed the room, and white furniture sat upon dark wooden flooring. Pink accented many of the furnishing, such as a pink cushion on a chair and a pink couch frame with white seat cushions. All the girls in their class had gathered here already. Mukuro sat perfectly still next to Kyouko on the couch. Celes stood in the background, wearing her black loita dress, Sakura flexed nearby and Sayaka enveloped Touko in a big hug.

“Fukawa-san!” Sayaka greeted. “I’m so glad you’re here!”

Touko didn’t know what to do during hugs so just held her arms at different angles until Sayaka finally stepped back.

“Okay, we’ve got work to do!” Junko said, one hand holding a hairbrush, one hand holding a hairdryer and her third arm clutching a mascara wand. “The dance starts in two hours, and we have a lot of work to do. Which I just said, but like... nya!”

That sounded like an insult. Not the bit with the nya, but the bit about having a lot of work to do. However, as Touko drew in breath to come out with the best retort ever to be written in print, Junko thrust a dress into Touko’s arms, nearly bowling her over.

“Put this on first,” instructed Junko, and she shoved Touko into the bathroom.

Silence rang as soon as the door slammed shut. Touko held out the dress and examined it. The dress consisted of bright pink lace applique with a floral pattern and a short puffy skirt. There was a divide at the cleavage, and the two halves at the front came together around the belly button area.

Against her reservations, Touko changed into the dress and studied her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Seeing herself, she felt like a fairy from a video game that lived in a secret fountain and blessed whatever elven warriors visited.

“Come out, Fukawa-san!” Sayaka called.

Touko took a deep breath and emerged back into the main room.

No one said anything for a while, staring at Touko with wide eyes.

Then...

Then...!

“Wow, you look amazing!” Sayaka said, and the other girls commented their agreement, causing Touko to blush and wiggle, embarrassed.

Junko flourished a hairdryer. “All right, Fukawa-san, now we’ve just got to do your hair and makeup, and then you’ll be ready to go to the dance!”

She marched Touko over to the vanity and plopped her down. Time seemed to go on forever as Junko loosened her braids, tugged a brush through her hair and then finally sprayed glitter into it. Once Touko’s hair was done, Sayaka did Touko’s makeup, highlighting her eyelids with pink and applying coral pink lipstick.

With just minutes to spare, Touko was ready for the dance.

The other girls still had to get ready, so Touko took off for the dance alone. She descended the stairs and opened the door to outside. To her horror, while they had been inside, it had started raining, and even though Junko’s dorm had windows, Touko hadn’t realised until right now.

A tear rolled down Touko’s cheek, but it didn’t ruin her makeup. Her heart ached. After all that effort, all that build-up, she wouldn’t be able to go to the dance. If she went out in the rain, it would ruin her whole outfit, and she would be a laughing stock.

Just as she started to turn away and go back to her dorm, someone held out an umbrella toward her. She stopped and turned back.

“Here,” said Byakuya, dressed in a dark green pinstripe suit with a dollar symbol pattern all over it. He pressed the umbrella into her hands. “I’m only giving this to you because it’s too heavy for me to carry. Not because I like you or anything...”

Byakuya turned his head away and added,

“B-Baka.”

Piano music tinkled as Touko stared at him. She would have stared at him for longer if Celes hadn’t barged past her and hooked her arm around Byakuya’s arm.

“Bonjour, Master-sama! It’s time to for us to go win prom king and prom queen,” said Celes with a simper, giggling, and the pair walked to the main building together, all the hot air in Celes making the rain evaporate before it could get near them.

Touko hunched her shoulders and set off with the umbrella.

The dance was in full swing when Touko arrived as part of the pack of girls in her class, who had all managed to get ready themselves in less than a minute, dress, hair, makeup and all, as well as catch up to Touko. She stayed back while everyone else went their separate ways.

Sakura and Aoi held each other’s hands and danced together on the dance floor, which was made up of different panels that flashed a fluorescent independently. Celes, wearing the same loita dress that she wore every single moment of her life, sidled up to Byakuya, who was too busy counting the money in his wallet to notice her existence, and Kyouko walked over to the punch bowl.

Kyouko poured herself a glass of punch and frowned at the contents. She held up her glass.

“All right, who put razor blades in my drink?” asked Kyouko.

Everyone gasped, but Sayaka gasped loudest.

“Oh, no, who would do something like that?” said Sayaka sweetly, placing a hand against her cheek.

“Whoever it was, they’re totally a backstabbing skank that doesn’t deserve Naegi-kun,” said Nagito, who wasn’t even in their class.

Sayaka narrowed her eyes at him.

Aoi stopped dancing for a moment and looked around. “Hey, where is Naegi, anyway? Shouldn’t he be at the dance by now?”

Everyone else looked around too.

“Uh, maybe he got lost on the way here, ‘right? Like in the Bermuda Triangle or something, man,” suggested Yasuhiro, holding a blunt in one hand and a sign in his other hand with Hifumi’s face drawn on it.

“Indeed,” said Hifumi, sounding like Yasuhiro but higher-pitched. Yasuhiro bobbed the sign up and down as ‘Hifumi’ spoke. “Mayhaps the gentleman thought the dance was in another academy, like Otonokizaka Academy?”

The suspense was thick as everyone wondered where Makoto could be. They were still pondering about his possible current whereabouts when the door to the school gym burst open. All eyes flitted to the doorway.

A silhouette was framed by the light of outside. Celes’s skin burned where the light touched her and she scampered into the darkness. In the doorway stood none other than Makoto, wearing a black suit with his hoodie on underneath the jacket.

He swept his gaze across the hall, where everyone had stopped to marvel at him. One-by-one, as soon as his handsome eyes passed over a different classmate, they wandered over to him. All except Touko, who remained at the side of the room, and Byakuya, who was too busy making sure no one tried to steal any money from his wallet to pay attention.

Mukuro bowed in front of Makoto, going down onto her hands and knees. Celes stood behind Mukuro, and Aoi and Nagito dropped to one knee either side of him. Makoto sat on Mukuro, using Nagito and Sayaka as armrests and Celes as the back of his human throne.

Everyone waited with baited breath.

Finally, Makoto lifted a finger, pointing.

“... You,” he said in a deep, manly voice.

His finger was aimed at Kyouko, who blushed and gestured weakly to herself.

“Me?” she said.

He nodded, got off his seat and linked arms with her. Kyouko giggled and fanned her face with her other hand which had no scars whatsoever. The pair walked over to the dance floor together.

A harpoon sailed through the air where Kyouko’s head had been moments before.

“Dammit!” said Sayaka, stamping her foot and cradling a harpoon gun.

After Makoto’s entrance, the dance slowly returned to normal. Aoi and Sakura paired up together again, Makoto and Kyouko danced shyly together, and after they signed Chihiro’s adoption papers, Mondo swung Kiyotaka around like he was a ragdoll. Mukuro and Sayaka gazed longingly at Makoto.

Leon shuffled over to them and cleared his throat.

“You want to dance?” he asked Sayaka.

“Sure,” said Sayaka with a shrug, and she went off with him. They started headbanging together.

As for everyone else, they didn’t have anyone to be paired off with specifically so weren’t worth mentioning. Touko sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. Everyone else seemed to have someone to dance with except her.

She heaved a sigh.

But then, someone held out a hand, and she looked up.

It was Byakuya.

“Do you want to dance with me?” he asked. He blushed. “You pig baka.”

Touko blinked, uncertain if she heard him right. As she stared into her eyes, her heart skipped. She must have heard him right.

“S-Sure,” she said, taking his hand, and they both glided onto the dancefloor together.

Across the hall, Celes noticed and began gnawing her teeth angrily against a log of wood. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Yasuhiro holding the sign with Hifumi on it, and she stomped over to them.

“Give me that,” she hissed, snatching Hifumi off him, and she thundered away.

Yasuhiro continued smiling stupidly into space.

Touko glanced at Yasuhiro and then turned back to Byakuya. The rest of the hall faded away, until all that was there, all that mattered, were Touko and Byakuya, lit up by the tiles underneath their feet. Byakuya gazed at her, not wearing his glasses, and her glasses were gone too. His chin was incredibly big and well-defined and his shirt’s top buttons had come undone.

He cupped her cheek with a hand bigger than her head and smiled.

“Fukawa,” he said in a husky voice. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Uh huh?” she replied, leaning into his touch.

“Do you really believe only miserable people can imagine a perfect world?”

She frowned a bit. “... Huh?”

“I said, I wrote you that letter in class,” said Byakuya. “Fukawa, I love you. It’s not like I have been raised to think otherwise or have any internal conflict about it. No... I definitely love you.”

Her eyes widened. Her breathing hitched. Her body quivered.

“Attention!” shouted the headmaster, Jin, standing on a stage. The world phased back, and Touko and Byakuya were on a dancefloor once more surrounded by hormonal teenagers... or around about. “I am now going to announce the Prom King and Prom Queen.”

“Oh, it’s totally going to be me,” said Celes smugly, rubbing her knuckles against her titty.

“Sorry, Celes-san, but my intuitions tell me it will me and Naegi-kun,” said Sayaka, her hands clasped together.

They smiled at each other with their eyes shut and both of them set aflame, but it was an emotional flame, so it didn’t burn them or anyone nearby.

Jin tore open an envelope and read aloud from it. “The Prom King and Prom Queen... is Byakuya Togami and Touko Fukawa.”

A spotlight shone down on the winners. Byakuya and Touko looked at each other, then took each other’s hands and climbed up onto the stage. Chisa placed a crown on both of their heads.

“Speech!” Leon yelled, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, and the rest of the class began to chant what he said, pumping their fists in time with their shouts.

“Speech! Speech! Speech!”

Touko shivered, surveying the hall. They had chosen her to be Prom Queen... her! Celes glowered at her, but everyone else smiled and clapped. She continued looking at them, trying to think what to say, and then her eyes fell onto Nagito, who was gripping the handle of a plunger detonator...

Wait.

He pressed down on it, and the stage collapsed. Multiple explosions billowed out around them. Touko screamed as she felt herself begin to plummet, and she grabbed onto the nearest solid thing to her.

Byakuya.

Their surroundings turned black as they fell, falling further... and further... and further? They kept falling, to the point when she became used to it and it felt like she wasn’t falling, but rather that she and Byakuya were suspended in midair.

The only thing she could see was Byakuya.

The only thing she could hear was Byakuya.

“Fukawa,” he said, gripping her hands tightly back.

“W-What?” she said, tensing.

Byakuya gazed into her eyes.

“This will sound unreal and outlandish,” he said, “but none of this is real. This is all a virtual simulation created by a resistance group called Future Foundation, meant to reprogramme us.”

Her heart jolted. She ogled him. “What?”

“After a series of events, Enoshima manipulated us and brainwashed us into becoming her elite squad for spreading despair,” Byakuya explained. “By now, our classmates have completed the simulation and come out, all except you.”

Touko let go of one of Byakuya’s hands and placed her hand against her head, wincing. That sounded crazy. It couldn’t be possible.

“I managed to get into the program just now, overriding the file that represented me in here.” He loosened his hold for a moment, then squeezed her hand. His eyes searched hers for something. “I want to know... if you will leave this virtual world, for the real one?”

She bit her lip. It was coming back to her now. In the other world, tally marks covered her body, and under his suit, Byakuya had patches of Junko Enoshima’s skin sewn onto him. Their surroundings went from black to cyber blue, full of ones and zeroes.

“Leave... here?” she mumbled. Leave behind this happy world where everyone lived, where the only problems that she had to face involved school festivals and love triangles? And instead, go to a world where despair had feasted on the world, where she had to face the reality of her actions...

... and a world where Byakuya did not love her.

“I... I don’t know,” she admitted. Her chest fluttered.

He plucked her hand off her head and squeezed that one too.

“Fukawa...” Byakuya looked away for a moment, but then he made himself look at her again. “I can’t force you to come with me, but... I would like you to.”

She inhaled sharply. Her face warmed. “Y-Y-?”

“Yes.” He gripped harder. “Long ago, you told me... that love isn’t a weakness, and can make you stronger. I thought you were wrong, but I’ve thought it over. Your love... that you channel into your writing, that surfaced when Syo stopped me from killing myself... that had you stay by my side, and fight as well as you did... that made you repress Syo’s urges to kill... and be willing to leave despair so we could be together... has made me think I should reconsider my stance. After all, you are not a weak person. Not at all.”

Byakuya gazed into her eyes, blushing. While he had blushed during their dance, ignoring the fact that the Byakuya there had been a fake, the colour on his face here meant more than anything that imposter could have said or done.

“If you come back with me, I would like to investigate, and find out more about it,” he said, his voice cracking at the end. “Together.”

Her heart thrashed.

“I...”

She furrowed her brow.

“I’m scared, Byakuya-sama... but... if I’m with you, the real you, I think...” Touko stared up at him, shaking. “I think I’m strong enough to face the world.”

The real Byakuya was who she had fell in love with, after all.

“Okay,” she said, choking up. Smiling even though she was crying too. “I will go with you.”

He smiled, and as they leaned in toward each other, the simulation turned black.